Bangladesh's 2017-18 season ended with good news - the move up to No. 8 gave them their highest ranking in Test cricket. But their performance over the last eight months from August to March highlight four areas that need immediate attention.
A leadership void
Many would justifiably claim that Mashrafe Mortaza and Shakib Al Hasan are well qualified as team leaders but the reality has been different. Former coach Chandika Hathurusingha was arguably the most powerful cricket figure in the country until his abrupt departure in November last year. BCB chief Nazmul Hassan backed him, and while there was a mourning period in the aftermath of his departure, Hassan had expected to replace Hathurusingha swiftly. But numerous rejections by coaches has left a leadership void, as foreign head coaches have tended to become the centre of power in the Bangladesh team. For now, Hassan has assumed the leadership position particularly after Bangladesh's debacle against Sri Lanka at home, and especially after the encouraging showing in the Nidahas Trophy. In the absence of a full-time coach, Hassan had taken charge, and as he usually does, he's been public with plenty of criticism and praise. This is not an ideal situation.
This was another season when Bangladesh's main batting performers like Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal were the mainstays. They are the only ones who have scored 700-plus runs across all formats. Mahmudullah and Shakib have played match-winning hands but beyond the batsmen who make up Bangladesh's senior group, there has not been much. Mominul Haque's 466 runs in 10 innings is 26 more than what Sabbir Rahman has made in 25 innings during the same period. Sabbir has been one of the three disappointments among the young batsmen.
Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar have averaged below 20 after more than 15 innings while Anamul Haque and Mohammad Mithun, although not considered young anymore, have also struggled in limited opportunities. Mosaddek Hossain, who made an impressive Test debut in February last year, was kept away for much of the season due to an eye condition. Soumya and Sabbir have lost national contracts while Mosaddek has slipped down the pecking order; Liton is likely to be rewarded with a national contract in the next few weeks.
It is hoped that BCB's tough stance on stripping some players of their national contract will send the message they desire, but a batting coach is paramount over the next 12 months.
When Shakib was ruled out of the first Test against Sri Lanka last January, the selectors' hunt for spinners became a farce. They first called up legspinning allrounder Tanbir Hayder and rookie offspinner Nayeem Hasan who left the Under-19 World Cup to join the senior side. Both were curious call-ups, but what happened in the next 24 hours was equally befuddling. Abdur Razzak, the veteran left-arm spinner who had been overlooked for four years despite a bagful of domestic wickets, was picked as the sixth specialist spinner.
Not surprisingly, Razzak stood out with his consistent lengths and wicket-taking deliveries. His call-up was encouraging on many levels, for domestic performers and in terms of opportunities for older cricketers. But his call-up also underlined the lack of fresh spin talent.
Pace, too, has gone through a similar reality check. The narrow focus on only spin-friendly wickets at home has made pace bowling almost redundant. The lack of usage in home internationals and domestic matches leads to rustiness when they get to bowl in helpful conditions. Taskin Ahmed's fall in pace or Mustafizur Rahman blowing hot and cold has put a lot of pressure on Mashrafe, who provides as much as his body allows nowadays. Rubel Hossain has also stood out with his death-overs bowling (although the Nidahas Trophy final didn't go well for him).
As a whole, the bowling hasn't been as effective as it was in 2015 or 2016, and now they have three bowling coaches in Courtney Walsh (pace), Sunil Joshi (spin) and Champaka Ramanayake (the academy's pace bowling coach). The onus doesn't just fall on the specialist coaches' feet, but also on the willingness of the bowlers to improve.
Cricket remains the king
Despite the worries circling the senior team, cricket continues to be healthy in Bangladesh. It is the national pastime with stories emerging from all corners about efforts being made not just to reach the top but also the game's growth being used as a feel-good factor.
The women's game is progressing with heroic tales like those of Muslim Uddin, the coach who turned a toilet into the storage facility for his women's cricket camp. Rumana Ahmed and Khadiza Tul Kubra have also found some overseas experience after being invited to the WBBL in Australia earlier in the year. The story of Salauddin Sakil too, is inspiring, after he made his first-class debut in April, having spent four years of his youth in the Middle East as a migrant labourer.
These people and their stories tell us all how deep Bangladesh cricket goes, and the impact it makes on people's lives.